Friday, April 29, 2011


Sauerkraut and kim chi are both essentially lacto-fermented cabbage. In the case of kim chi, other vegetables, spices, and sometimes even shrimp are added to the cabbage. Having made both kim chi and sauerkraut, I can assure you that they are both super easy to make! If you have never had lacto-fermented vegetables before, they have a pleasantly sour, salty flavor, retain their crunchy texture and - this is the best part - keep forever, or at least a year or so in the fridge.

Or just ferment it!
 Living in the age of refrigeration makes us think that leaving food out for even a couple hours will kill you, but in many cases that is just not true. Lacto-fermentation is extremely safe, even safer than water bath canning, because there is no chance of botulism. The fermentation process allows "good" microorganisms to outcompete those that might make you sick.

 I can think of no better way to preserve an abundance of cabbage for the winter months, and guys, you don't even have to can it! The fermentation process is all you need to do, and that basically amounts to letting it sit out for a few days. You can't go wrong here.

Pink kraut!

Here is what you need to make sauerkraut:
1 cabbage, red or green or half and half!
A quart sized mason jar, or non-metallic crock with a lid
2-4 teaspoons or salt, to taste
A big wooden spoon, or potato masher, or meat hammer, or some other blunt heavy object
Large bowl

For kimchi:
All the equipment listed above
1 napa cabbage
3-4 teaspoons of salt, or more
A bunch of scallions
1 bulb garlic
2 inches ginger
4 or more red chilis
1 daikon radish
4 carrots (optional)

Here is what you do. Take the cabbage, peel off the outer leaves and give it a good wash. I have read in some places that you should use only organic cabbage because conventional cabbage will not ferment properly. This is bunk. Use what you have and ignore the crazies.

Cut the cabbage in half (length ways for napa) and then cut out the core. Lay each half on the flat side and slice the cabbage into fairly thin ribbons - maybe half an inch or so. Precision is not critical. For kimchi I like to cut the cabbage into two inch or so chunks. Chop up the other vegetables and spices as well.

Place the shredded cabbage, and for kimchi, the other vegetables and spices, in the large bowl with the salt and pound the bajeezus out of it. The cabbage will start to release its water as a result of being pounded - the salt aids in this as well.

You should be able to see the juice when you tip the bowl..
Pound until it is really juicy, then pack it in the mason jar, or crock, and add enough salt water to cover. Some folks recommend weighing down the cabbage with a (clean) rock to keep it under the water, but personally I haven't had any trouble just capping it as long as you make sure it is submerged in brine. I like to check it every day, and use a spoon to pack it down after taking a sample. If you are using a jar, screw the lid on loosely to allow gas and brine to escape during fermentation. Keep a dish under the jar to catch any liquid that comes out.

Leave the jars out for a few days to a week, until it stops bubbling. You can potentially leave it out at room temperature, but it will continue to ferment and get more sour if you do this. I have eaten kraut that was kept in a basement for five months - this is a preservation technique, after all - but I recommend refrigerating it once it tastes good to you, at least at first, until you get a better idea of how it will taste as it progresses.

That's all there is to it, folks. Kimchi fried rice is a delicious meal for those days when you are out of fresh vegetables and your blood sugar is too low to allow for a trip to the store ... at least, that's been my experience.

My first kimchi ever. I had three quarts, but this is the lone survivor of The Great Pickled Vegetable Consumption of 2011.
If you want to learn more about making sauerkraut or kimchi, I highly recommend Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. It is pretty much The Holy Book of Fermentation.

I leave you on this final note.

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